Cutting property taxes is a perennial campaign promise in New Jersey, but an independent candidate for governor said that won’t happen until towns and school districts consolidate.
Gina Genovese has already spent about eight years focused on helping make those mergers happen.
The former mayor of Long Hill Township in Morris County, Genovese founded Courage to Connect NJ in 2009, which so far has helped Princeton Borough and Princeton Township merge and create the South Hunterdon Regional School District from four districts.
Requiring every school district to cover kindergarten through 12th grade, she said, about 250 of New Jersey’s 600 school districts could dissolve without much disruption.
“We could do all unified K-12 districts in New Jersey, and not one kid would have to go to a new school,” she said. “That’s where we have to start. And then you can look at education reform, and then move into the 21st century.”
She said merging the two Princetons has generated about $3 million in savings each year. Consolidating some of the remaining 565 municipalities in the Garden State could help the bottom line.
“For the towns, we could at least reduce to at least 200 fewer — and still have nice, strong towns that are sustainable and efficient,” she said.
One way that towns could save money through merging, she said, is writing up new contracts for municipal employees. That could modernize local spending in a way that can be hard to make happen merely through contract negotiations, Genovese said.
She acknowledged that the idea of urging consolidation has been around for decades — and that voters and leaders have mostly resisted. But a governor who makes a commitment to the idea and includes financial help to make it happen would help overcome resistance, she said.
Genovese, who was New Jersey’s first openly gay mayor, said she does not think her sexual orientation will be much of an issue in the governor’s race — but that might have been different before same-sex marriage became legal in the Garden State in 2013.
“If gay marriage hadn’t come through, I don’t think I could have run (for governor). I would have been a one-issue candidate,” she said.
Genovese faces Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guagdagno in the November election.